[This article first appeared in the 1981-82 Coral Sea Crusie Book. It was updated and reprinted for The Hook, Spring 1990. This article is reprinted here with permission from the author, CDR Pete Clayton (Ret.). Many thanks to Pete!]
The U.S. Naval construction program of World War II produced a fleet of the
finest warships ever to sail in any Navy or the world. These included the Iowa
class battleships, Essex-class carriers, Baltimore-class heavy cruisers and
Fletcher-class destroyers. It "as that logical progression that produced
a pedigree of combatant ships in the latter part of the war; one of those was
the large aircraft carrier USS Coral Sea (CVB-43).
Capitalizing on wartime experience, Coral Sea and her sisters, Midway (CVB-41)
and Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVB-42), were constructed with the most advanced
damage control innovations possible, including an armored flight deck and intensive
internal subdivision not found on any carrier or other combatant before or since.
Her original length was 968 ft., extreme beam 112 ft., maximum draft 34 ft.,
and her full load displacement 60,100 tons. Her 12 Babcock and Wilcox boilers
fed four Westinghouse engines that developed a total of 212,000 shaft horsepower
for a designed speed of 33 kts. Her original armament consisted of 14 5-in./54cal
dual purpose guns. She was scheduled to receive 3-in./50 cal. AA battery, but
they were not ready by commissioning, and she completed her first overseas deployment
prior to their instillation. The largest warships afloat at the time, the Midway-class
carriers were designed to carry an air group compliment of 133 aircraft; her
first group, CVBG-75, normally operated about 125, approximately half fighters
and half attack. She was fitted with two H-4 hydraulic catapults. Three hundred
seventy-nine officers and 3,725 enlisted men comprised her initial complement.
The ship was named for the Battle of the Coral Sea, which not only blunted
a Japanese thrust toward Port Moresby but was the first battle in history in
which opposing fleets never made visual contact with each other; the entire
action being fought between the opponents' aircraft. The Battle of the Coral
Sea (4-8 May 1942) proved a serious setback to Japanese movement toward. Australia,
and the anniversary of the battle is still commemorated "down under."
The First Coral Sea was an escort carrier, CVE- 57, constructed by the Kaiser
Shipbuilding Co. of Vancouver, Wash. Originally assigned the name of one of
the many Alaskan bays (Alikula Bay), her name was changed to Coral Sea 1 April
1943 during construction. Commissioned 27 August 1943, she served as Coral Sea
until renamed Anzio 10 October 1944, to free the name for the larger aircraft
carrier under construction.
Naming CVB-43 is a study of mass confusion. Originally, the CVB-41-class ships
were to be named for what had been determined to be the three naval turning
points of the war in the Pacific: Coral Sea, Midway and Leyte Gulf. In keeping
with that design, the unnamed CVB 42, laid A down 1 December 1943 at the New
York Navy Yard, was first named Coral Sea October 1944, and was launched 29
April 1945. The 12 April death of President Frankin D. Roosevelt, however, prompted
the renaming 8 May 1945 of CVB-42 in the late-chief executive and war leader's
honor. The reassignment of the name Coral Sea for a second time, went to CVB-43,
the last unnamed Midway-class carrier.
CVB-43 had been laid down 10 July 1944 by Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry
Dock Co. She was launched 2 April 1946, christened by Mrs. Thomas C. Kincaid,
a wife of RADM Thomas Kincaid, who had commanded a cruiser division under RADM
Frank Jack Fletcher at Coral Sea. Secretary of the Navy John L. Sullivan spoke
at the commissioning ceremonies which took place 1 October 1947, when CAPT Aaron
P. "Putt" Storrs, III assumed command. Underway for sea trials 8 December,
Coral Sea operated off the Virginia Capes before clearing Norfolk 19 January
1948 for shakedown training out of Guantanamo Bay and in the West Indies. Following
post-shakedown repairs and alterations in April, Coral Sea stood out of Hampton
Roads 10 May 1948 for a Naval Reserve training cruise, returning to Norfolk
21 May. Underway 5 June with Annapolis midshipmen embarked, the carrier-her
air group, CVEG-8, a composite of an escort carrier group and two squadrons
from CVG-l7-cIeared Hampton Roads the 7th, in company with TF 84 formed around
Missouri (BB-63). The force headed for a preview of what would be 12 Coral Sea
Mediterranean deployments before ultimately returning to Norfolk 6 August 1948.
Following voyage repairs at Norfolk Naval Shipyard, Coral Sea conducted refresher
training out of Guantanamo Bay returning to Norfolk 21 September. The ship entered
Norfolk Naval Shipyard 7 October for a five-month period of repairs and alterations,
including modernization of her bridge and island. She returned to "Gitmo"
for further refresher training (18 March-25 April 1949) before she broke the
flag of RADM M. F. Schoeffel, ComCarDiv Two, 30 April.
Coral Sea, with Air Group Two embarked, departed Norfolk 3 May on her maiden
deployment with the 6th Fleet, and reached Gibraltar 11 days later, CVG-2's
primary composition was for the most part made up of battle-tested WWII aircraft:
three squadrons of Vought F4U-4 Corsairs and one with the newer model -5; VA-25had
a mix of postwar Douglas AD-1 Skyraiders along with Eastern-built TBM-3E Avengers.
Coral Sea joined her sister Atlantic Fleet carriers in the postwar goodwill
and show of strength deployments to the Mediterranean. These cruises provided
a stabi1izing influence in the area while serving as direct instruments of Untied
States foreign policy. During her first tour in the Med, the new carrier interspersed
a regimen of exercises near Malta, and Suda Bay, Crete, with visits to a succession
of European ports.
Completing repairs 6 April 1950, Coral Sea exercised off the Virginia capes
and operated locally out of Norfolk before she cleared port 1 May for Gitmo
and training. She returned to Norfolk 18 June for local operations.
On 27 June, CVB-43 became the flagship of RADM William L. Rees, Jr., ComCarDiv
Two and over the ensuing weeks conducted CarQuals off Atlantic City, N.J. During
that period, she also was the site of the first carrier landings of the North
American AJ-l Savage, 31 August 1950 demonstrating the feasibility of operating
heavy attack aircraft from a carrier in the strategic mission role.
That slate of local operations and training behind her, Coral Sea-with CVG-l7
embarked - sailed 9 September 1950 for her second 6th Fleet deployment. CVG-17
brought F 2H-2 Banshees to CVB-43 for her initial deployment with jet aircraft.
She transited the Strait of Gibraltar the 19th, subsequently taking part in
fleet exercises off the coast of Sicily and in the Malta operating area before
she visited Augusta. Returning to sea, she operated near Suda Bay and Sicily
again before visiting Algiers and Oran, departing the latter 22 January 1951
for return to the United States.
Following post-deployment voyage repairs, Coral Sea operated in the Virginia
Capes area, qualifying CVG-1 and preparing for her third Med deployment. Pioneering
Aviator CAPT James S. Russell, later Chief or the Bureau of Aeronautics and
four-star admiral, relieved CAPT Fred M Trapnell as Coral Sea's fifth commanding
officer, 12 February 1951. As flagship for RADM Daniel V. Gallery, ComCarDiv
Six, the ship sailed from Norfolk 20 March, reaching Gibraltar 1 April. As before,
calls at Italian, French, Greek and Turkish ports punctuated her periods of
flight operations at sea: at one point she participated in the first Major North
Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) exercise, Beehive I, with British, French
and Italian ships. Returning to Norfolk 6 October via Lisbon, the carrier entered
Norfolk Naval Shipyard 10 October for an overhaul that lasted into February
After carrying out local VaCapes operations and refresher training out of Guantanamo
Bay, Coral Sea - CVG-4 embarked - cleared Norfolk 19 April 1952 as flagship
for RADM Charles R. "Cat" Brown, ComCarDiv Six, to commemorate her
fourth 6th Fleet deployment. Significant in this tour was her visit to Split,
Yugoslavia, 11-14 September 1952, the first of an American aircraft carrier
to that Adriatic port. While there, she hosted Marshall Josip Tito, Yugoslavia's
Prime Minister, who observed air operations during his three hour visit. Coral
Sea returned to Norfolk 12 October 1952 via Cannes and Lisbon, having earned
the Atlantic Fleet Battle Efficiency Award for carrier excellence.
Reclassified as an attack carrier, (CVA-43) effective I October1952, Coral Sea
conducted five more 6th Fleet deployments during the next five years with a
succession of different air groups-CVG-8 in 1953, CVG-10 in 1954, CVG-17 in
1955 and CVG-10 again in 1956-1957. The CVG-8 cruise, 26 April-21 October 1953,
marked a major change in air group composition from propellers to jets. Although
earlier air groups had two full Banshee squadrons, the predominant aircraft
had been Corsairs. The most numerous aircraft for the 1953 deployment were Grumman
F9F-5 Panthers, which included a Marine squadron, VMF-122. The ship's first
AJ Savage det also operated during this cruise.
The CVG-10 deployment remained a "jet air wing," hut was a mix of
newer McDonnell F2-H4s, F2H-2s and an upgrade to F9F-6 Cougars. Clearing Norfolk
7 July 1954, the six month deployment included operations with Morocco-based
VC-5 and VC-9 AJ-2s before Coral Sea arrived home in Norfolk 20 December.
The ship's seventh tour with the 6th Fleet commenced 28 March1955. Again, a
new air group was aboard, this time CVG-17. The fighters were F2H-2/3 Banshees,
and again with VMF-122, now in North American FJ-2 Furys. The giant carrier
cleared Gibraltar 21 September en route to Norfolk, where she arrived 29 September.
For her 23 July 1956 - 11 February 1957 6th Fleet tour with CVG-l0 embarked,
Coral Sea's major air group change was the addition of VF-103 and VA-l06's nuclear-capable
In between Med cruises the carrier operated out of Norfolk, ranging from the
Virginia Capes to Mayport, Fla., and into Cuban waters and the West Indies.
A period of international tensions highlighted her deployment in the autumn
of 1956. Coral Sea had departed Istanbul 27 October, and two days later was
still en route to Cannes, when the Suez Crisis erupted. The carrier was sent
to assist other ships of the 6/h Fleet in evacuating and protecting Americans
in the area. She operated off the coast of Egypt into late November, then resumed
more routine operations in the Western Mediterranean.
On 26 February 1957, Coral Sea departed Norfolk for Bremerton, Wash., to be
decommissioned and undergo an extensive modernization. Stopping for visits at
various South and Central American ports, the giant carrier rounded Cape Horn
17 March, arriving at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard 15 April. There, she was placed
out or commission the 24th.
Coral Sea's resultant metamorphosis during the next 33 months amounted to a
virtual reconstruction. The modernization included installation of three C-11-1
steam catapults, angled deck, enclosed hurricane bow, Mk-7-Mod 2 arresting gear
identical to that installed in the Forrestal-class carriers, three new deck-edge
elevators and new weapons elevators. In addition, hull blisters widened her
beam to a matronly 120 ft. to accommodate the increase in her displacement.
Coral Sea was recommissioned 25 January 1960, CAPT James S. Gray Jr., a former
XO of the ship, in command. Following sea trials and a post-overhaul inspection
and survey evaluation at Bremerton, Coral Sea visited Vancouver, B.C., 18-21
March before officially reporting to the Pacific Fleet for duty. She arrived
at her new homeport of Alameda 1 April and was assigned to CarDiv Seven.
The carrier commenced underway training 22 April out of Long Beach and San Diego;
that day, CDR Jim Swope, the ship's navigator, piloted the first plane to be
launched following the ship's recommissioning. On the afternoon of 9 May, Cora
Sea logged her first arrested landing since the completion of the overhaul when
CDR Jim Swope, CAG-15, landed an LTV F8U-IE Crusader on board. Returning to
Puget Sound 7 July, Coral Sea then underwent a six-week post-conversion availability,
upon the completion of which she returned to Alameda and resumed local operations
off the Southern California coast, recording the 1,000th and 2,000th landing
During the next four years, Coral Sea conducted three WestPac deployments with
the 7th Fleet, commencing the first with her departure from San Francisco Bay
19 September 1960. She was sailing two months ahead of schedule, the first carrier
to deploy as the result of President Dwight D. Eisenhower's decision to keep
three attack carriers on the line with 7th Fleet at all times. With the exception
of one WestPac cruise, Coral Sea's embarked air group for the next 17 years
would be CVG-l5.
Air Group 15 (redesignated air wing 20 December 1963) composition for the 19
September 1960 - 27 May 1961 WestPac indicated the recent major evolutionary
changes in the U.S. Navy's carrier striking power. VF-151 embarked with F3H-2
Demons to pair with VF-l54 F8U-lE Crusaders. VA-153 and -155 bad A4D-2 Skyhawks.
VA-152 provided AD-6 "Spads," and VAH-2 introduced the A3D-2 Skywarrior
to CVA-43. Another newcomer was VAW-13, Det Delta's WF-2 "Willy Fudd."
Reaching Japanese waters 5 October, Coral Sea put her two fighter squadrons
ashore at Atsugi while embarking two Marine A4D squadrons, VMA-121 and VMA-324,
thus pioneering the "all attack" carrier concept. That deployment
set the tone for the ones to follow, "showing the flag" in the Far
East and standing ready to support American foreign policy in that area of the
world. Relieved by Bon Homme Richard (CVA-31), Coral Sea sailed from Subic Bay,
Philippines, 12 May, for Alameda.
Following minor repairs and alterations at San Francisco Naval Shipyard, Hunter's
Point, Coral Sea visited San Diego 18 August1961, the largest ship of the time
to enter that port. Early the following month, as the ship steamed off the coast
of Southern California, she trapped a McDonnell F4H-l Phantom II, flown by LCDR
Patrick L. Working of VF-121, for the Phantom's first PacFlt carrier operations.
Later that autumn, Coral Sea became one of six PacFlt carriers to reach 100,000
landing milestone, when Lt. Fred M. Backman and ADJ2 C.L. Moore, in a Douglas
A3D-2 Skyraider, caught her number two wire 23 October.
Following the ship's second WestPac deployment (12 December 1961 - 17 July
1962), Coral Sea underwent a four-month period of repairs and alteration': at
Hunter's Point. On 2 February 1963, as the ship was returning from four weeks
of operations in the San Diego area, ebb tide currents in San Francisco Bay
pushed the big carrier, conned by a civilian pilot, aground in a heavy fog.
Ten tugs were required to extricate the undamaged carrier from her predicament.
Highlighting the ship's third WestPac deployment (19 April - 25 November 13)
was a two-week visit to Sydney, Australia, commencing 29 April, 10 celebrate
the 21st anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea. While in port, she gave
the citizens of Sydney a chance to observe the ship in action when she catapulted
a Grumman C-1A Trader while moored at Wooloomooloo Dock.
Coral Sea commenced her fourth WestPac deployment when she sailed 7 December
1964 via Pearl Harbor. Once again, CVW-l5 reflected the latest "stale-of-the-art"
carrier air power technology. VF-151 had traded in its Demons for F-4H Phantom
IIs to compliment VF-154 F-8Ds. The light attack squadrons had been reduced
to VA-153 and -155 flying more capable A-4C and Es, respectively. VA-165 was
now on board with A-1H/Js, while VAH-2 remained with A-3Bs.
On 6 February 1965, routine operations for the day had ended, and Coral Sea
was steaming toward Manila for a few days of scheduled liberty. Then, at 0112
Saigon time, ADM Henry L. Miller in Ranger (CVA-6l) received word to assemble
TF 77. The previous evening, communist guerrilla attacks against American bases
in South Vietnam had cost the lives of several Americans and injured several
more. RADM Eddie Outlaw, in his flagship Coral Sea, immediately ordered all
ships assigned to TG 77.5 to proceed at high speed to the rendezvous.
Simultaneously, Coral Sea received word to ready her planes. At 1240, 7 February,
the ship received orders for TF 77's planes to bomb targets in North Vietnam;
at 1500, little more than eight hours after the first indication of trouble
in Southeast Asia, 20 aircraft launched from Coral Sea's flight deck, to join
those from Ranger and Han-cock (CVA-19). Coral Sea's CVG-15 led the retaliatory
strike on the Dong Hoi military barracks, reputedly one of the staging areas
for Viet Cong infiltrators into South Vietnam, in the largest single such effort
since the Korean War.
After a breather at Subic Bay (6-15 March), Coral Sea returned to the line,
reaching her assigned area 16 March to hurl strikes against North Vietnamese
supply buildings at Phu Van and Vinh Son. After her second period on Yankee
Station, the ship returned to Subic (18-23 April) before visiting Hong Kong
and returning to the Philippines 29 May.
Her WestPac tour extended indefinitely, Coral Sea touched at Yokosuka (5-13
June) and Buckner Bay, Okinawa (15-18 June) before she returned to Subic to
load ammunition and ordnance 20-23 June. Before that eventful fourth WestPac
deployment would end, Coral Sea would log more than 10,000 combat sorties in
Southeast Asia, a record for carriers with one air wing during a single combat
cruise. The 10,000th sortie was flown by LT. William J. Kish in a VA-155 A-4E
Skyhawk. During that time, too, she was awarded the first of six Admiral Flatley
Memorial Awards for aviation safety, part of which (February through June) covered
the ship's operations on Yankee Station. To the joy of her crew, the carrier
sailed for home 17 October 1965, and reached Alameda 1 November with a 973-foot
homeward bound pennant trailing astern, reflecting the longest deployment made
by a carrier since WWII and a record which stands to this day. For her work
in Southeast Asia, Coral Sea received her first Navy Unit Commendation (NUC).
The joys of her award and return home were tempered, however, by the knowledge
that eight of her aircrew did not return. Five were killed in action, one was
missing and two were prisoners. CVW-15 had lost 21 aircraft in combat over Vietnam.
During the next several months, the ship underwent repairs and alterations
at Hunter's Point, and later operated locally off California. Excessive vibration
during the sea trials, however revealed that the number three low pressure turbine
was out of balance since the turbine could not be repaired in-place, it was
replaced by one removed from sister ship Midway-then out of commission and undergoing
a conversion similar to Coral Sea's six years before This measure enabled CVA-43
to meet her scheduled commitments Underway training off San Diego followed,
after which the ship, while maneuvering in the turning basin adjacent to NAS
North Island collided with Iwo Jima (LPH-2), but incurring little damage to
After further local operations, Coral Sea - with CVW-2 embarked, departed Alameda
29 July 1966 for Southeast Asia. This time, CVA-43 had two Phantom squadrons,
as the F-8 had been replaced on the "big deck" carriers by the F-4B.
Additionally CVW-2 brought VAW-1l's Grumman E-2A Hawkey's aboard replacing the
Willy Fudd. Proceeding via Pearl Harbor, the ship reached Yokosuka 14 August
where she relieved Ranger. She departed Japan 20 August, bound for the Philippines,
but ran into heavy weather generated by Typhoon Winnie on the 21st and 22nd,
suffering minor damage to her sponsons and some exposed equipment.
Reaching Subic 25 August, "Coral Maru," as she was often called,
sailed for Yankee Station the following day. The transit to the war zone, however,
proved abbreviated, as one blade of number four screw separated at the hub and
struck a blade of number three, rendering both unserviceable for operational
speeds. A brief inspection at Subic confirmed the damage, and the ship proceeded
to Yokosuka for drydocking and repairs.
Coral Sea ultimately returned to Yankee Station 13 September, launching strikes
against lines of communication and supply facilities, remaining on station until
20 October - an extension brought about by Franklin D. Roosevelt's dropping
a propeller blade and requiring a drydocking for repairs. Following repairs
at Subic to Coral Sea's aircraft elevators, sponsons, and machinery, the ship
departed the Philippines 30 October to return to Yankee Station for a second
time in the deployment, remaining on the line until 4 December.
Following upkeep at Subic (6-17 December), the ship visited Hong Kong for rest
and recreation (20-26 December) before returning to Yankee Station to closeout
1966 and usher in 1967 with round-the-clock combat operations against communist
supply lines in North Vietnam. As CVW-2 aviators stepped up their efforts to
interdict the supply lines, enemy gunners once more extracted their price by
bringing down 16 more aircraft resulting in six aircrew KIA, three MIA and six
more prisoners or war.
Having earned a second NUC for her work on Yankee Station, Coral Sea steamed
to Subic; where she offloaded equipment and planes before proceeding to Yokosuka.
Relieved by Bon Homme Richard, Coral Sea sailed for home 9 February, reaching
Alameda the 23rd. Two months of restricted availability soon followed. During
subsequent CarQuals and refresher training, the ship operated Grumman A-6A Intruders
for the first time and landed a Vought A-7A Corsair II June for the first time,
marking the first fleet CarQuals for that aircraft.
Shortly before departing on her third combat cruise the city of San Francisco
adopted Coral Sea as "San Francisco's Own," in elaborate ceremonies.
Among the items presented to the ship were the battle flag of the heavy cruiser
San Francisco (CA-38) and pieces of presentation silver given to the first San
Francisco (also a cruiser) in 1889. Adoption proceedings having been concluded,
San Francisco's Own, reunited with CVW-15, sailed on an unusually clear morning,
26 July, to begin her third combat deployment. Significant change for CVW-15
this cruise was the addition of VF-161, providing the wing with all F-4Bs.
Steaming via Pearl Coral Sea reached Yokosuka 13 August, relieving Bon Homme
Richard, and sailed on the 17th for Subic. Reaching Subic 23 August, she lingered
there only two days, and reached Yankee Station the 28th to resume strikes against
targets in the North.
On 18 September. Coral Sea's pilots thrice struck the North Vietnamese port
of Haiphong, on the heels of strikes carried out earlier in the month on the
country's third largest port, Cam Pha (46 miles east-northeast of Haiphong).
The veteran carrier's pilots dropped a highway bridge and rendered a rail and
a highway bridge unusable in the teeth of heavy antiaircraft fire.
The first MiGs of the deployment were encountered 21 September near Haiphong,
in a brief and inconclusive engagement in which neither side suffered loss.
A Phantom pilot of CVW-l5 reported at least four MiG-17s and thought he damaged
one with a near-miss by an air-to-air missile. At the time of the explosion,
however, he was already turning to fire at a second MiG, losing sight of the
A week after the encounter with the MiGs, Coral Sea's A-4E pilots dropped the
southern section of the Haiphong Rail and Highway Bridge, the last of four such
spans linking the city with the mainland. In five days of attacks on three of
that port's bridges, Coral Sea's planes struck nine times, flying through moderate-to-heavy
flak each time while dodging numerous SAM's at the cost of one aircraft.
Following upkeep at Subic (2-11 October), the ship returned to the Tonkin Gulf
and resumed strikes against North Vietnam two days later. As the result of a
collision during underway replenishment with Mount Katmai (AE-16) 18 October,
two of Coral Sea's aircraft elevators were rendered inoperable. She managed
to retain her capability to maintain combat effectiveness by extensive modification
of operational techniques through experimentation and coordination between the
air wing, operations and air departments. Early in November, both of the damaged
elevators were repaired at Subic.
Also during that deployment, Coral Sea participated in the implementation of
the MiGCAP plan for positive control of the combat air patrol (CAP) in direct
support of strike groups, a plan originated by ComCarDiv Seven while embarked
in the ship.
On 21 October, the ship gained her first "PT-boat Ace," when a VA-I55
pilot sank four North Vietnamese patrol boats. LT Wilmer P. Cook and his wingman
LTJG M. L. Watson, detected six such boats at first light, cleverly screened
by a fishing fleet, about a mile east or Thanh Hoa harbor. Cook executed a shallow
diving turn that enabled him to pick up the patrol boats in his sight; his bombs
impacted squarely in the midst of the formation of enemy boats, sinking four
of the six and damaging the others. Cook's "airmanship, revolutionary tactics,
and courage in the face of a determined enemy" earned him his third DFC.
Cook had previously sunk one Swallow class patrol boat 6 August 1966 at the
Hong Gay Naval Base, for which he had received his second DFC. However, as the
tragedy of war continued, Cook would die three days before Christmas attacking
a pontoon bridge in his A-4E.
Three days later, CVW-15, led by CAG, CDR J. B. Linder, braved a heavy SAM barrage
as they coordinated their efforts with other Navy and Air Force units to pound
North Vietnam's largest and previously unstruck MiG base at Phuc Yen, 11 miles
north of the capital of Hanoi. In the course of the attack, the Americans spotted
at least 30 SAMs in the air as they battered the revetment area and taxiways
with 500- and 750-lb bombs. The following day, Coral Sea's Skyhawks and Phantoms
hit Phuc Yen again, encountering only moderate resistance. None of the several
airborne MiGs sighted closed the strike group.
Shortly before she was to leave Yankee Station, tragedy struck the ship 25
October when a Zuni rocket ignited during a routine test in the forward assembly
area; nine sailors suffered burns (three critical) in the accident. The Zuni
penetrated a bulkhead 20 feet from the testing area and its warhead lodged in
a power panel. That panel was isolated, securing the ventilation to number two
engine room, which had to be evacuated as temperatures shot up in excess of
200 degrees. Fortunately, well trained Coral Sea sailors promptly extinguished
the blaze and removed their injured shipmates to sickbay for treatment, and
the ship remained fully operational, launching strikes as scheduled the following
Coral Sea pulled into Subic Bay the morning of 29.October, but Typhoon Emma
compelled the ship to put to sea for three days of evasive steaming, after which
time she turned north for Hong Kong. She altered course 6 November to go to
the assistance of the Liberian flag freighter Loyal Fortunes at Pratas Reef,
170 miles southeast or the British Crown Colony. At about 0730,7 November, Coral
Sea launched two helicopters that shuttled between the two ships, eventually
bringing off all 37 Chinese crewmen. They were disembarked upon the carrier's
arrival at Hong Kong the following day.
CVA-43 returned to Yankee Station 12 November, and three days later her pilots
took advantage of a break in the monsoon weather 15 and 16 November to bomb
a previously untouched shipyard a mile west of Haiphong. Braving an increasingly
devastating SAM threat, her aviators kept up a relentless pressure on the North
Vietnamese transportation system with strikes airfields, rail yards and highways
A deck accident claimed a Skyhawk 25 November, when jet blast from another
aircraft taxiing forward knocked CDR W.H. Searfus' plane into the sea; the A4
sank, carrying Searfus with it.
Following another period of upkeep at Subic Coral Sea returned to the line
17 December, mounting four major efforts at the outset against two important
highway ferries - one near Thai Binh and the other south or Nam Dinh. CVW-l5
pilots inflicted heavy damage 19 December to dual storage complexes located
in caves near Ninh Binh.
Later that same week, CVW-15 planes streaked into the airspace over North Vietnam
just minutes after a controversial 24-hour truce ended and bombed streams of
trucks headed south laden with war supplies, destroying at least 455 such vehicles.
Describing the scene south of Thanh Hoa, LTJG M.J. Foley remarked: "It
looked like the New Jersey Turnpike".
On 29 December 1967. Lt J.F. Dowd and his RIO, LTJG G.K. Flint, of VF-161,
were flying a routine weather reconnaissance mission when antiaircraft fire
hit their F-4B near a small island east or Haiphong. Both men ejected as the
cockpit filled with smoke, and were spotted in minutes later by VA-25 pilots,
flying A-1 Skyraiders. Guided to the scene by the "Spads" a rescue
helicopter rescued Dowd and Flint who commented later: "It went like clockwork.
Except, in the cold water it was an awfully slow clock."
The northeast monsoon hampered air operations in January 1968 with low overcast,
rain squalls, and reduced visibility over most or North Vietnam, causing a diversion
of sorties to hit targets in South Vietnam and Laos. Ground activity; too, had
increased at that time, causing the cancellation of a proposed New Year's truce.
As weather permitted, CVW-15 struck targets in the Hanoi-Haiphong and Thanh
Hoa areas - sometimes three Alfa strikes per day. On the final four days of
the line deployment, Coral Sea's planes bombed a succession of railway and highway
bridges connecting Haiphong with the mainland.
Visiting Subic and Hong Kong briefly in succession, Coral Sea returned to Yankee
Station 16 January 1968 to again find poor weather prevailing. Soon after CVW-15's
planes had carried out strikes against the Dong Phong Thuong railway and highway
bridges, a significant change in the war came 20 January. North Vietnamese Army
(NVA) troops, who had been massing near the 17th parallel in South Laos, infiltrated
the I Corps area south of the demilitarized zone (DMZ) under cover of the monsoon
NVA forces overran the Lang Vei Special Forces camp and laid siege to Khe Sanh,
both bases which lay astride, and controlled, the main infiltration route, Highway
Nine, into the I Corps area. The prop-driven Spads of VA-25 flew close air support
in both sectors, some-times attacking enemy forces entrenched within the Khe
Sanh perimeter. Meanwhile, VA-153 A-4Es concentrated on artillery positions,
supply routes, and troop concentrations in Laos and the western I Corps area.
At about that time, word of the North Korean seizure of the Intelligence ship
Pueblo (AGER-5) reached the carrier 23 January. Contingency operations dictated
detachment of Ranger to join Enterprise (CVA(N)-65) already en route from Sasebo
to the Sea of Japan. As Ranger left the line and steamed north, with her went
all hope of Coral Sea's returning to San Francisco on schedule.
In the meantime, the war continued unabated. On 25 January, SAMs downed CDR
Thomas Woolcock, CO of VA-153, as he flew a strike against a North Vietnamese
coastal defense site that had taken the Australian guided missile destroyer
HMAS Perth under fire. Woolcock ejected safely, and was recovered off the enemy
shore by helicopter, ironically then taken to Perth. LT Fred Myers, his plane
damaged by the same exploding SAM that claimed Woolcock's, managed to nurse
his crippled bird back to the ship, refueled continuously by a KA-3B tanker
from VAH-10, and executed a barricade arrestment, emerging unhurt. His plane,
however, was a strike.
Coral Sea rounded out that line period with 28 January Alfa strikes against
the infamous Thanh Hoa railroad/highway bridge, as well as the transshipment
and staging area at Vinh. Soon after, the enemy Tet offensive got underway;
with Air Force and USMC units disabled because of mortar attacks on key fields,
the burden of the air war fell upon the Navy's shoulders, and carrier sorties
were diverted to targets in South Vietnam and Laos. In the midst of this activity,
the date projected to be the last on the line in Tonkin Gulf passed unnoticed.
Closing out the line period in support of ARVN and Third Marine Division forces
in Operation Niagara, a counteroffensive aimed at the major infiltration routes
on the Laotian border, Coral Sea left Yankee Station 20 February for Sasebo,
then sailed for the Sea of Japan, relieving Ranger. After conducting Operation
Formation Star cold weather training, Coral Sea put in to Yokosuka 19 March,
where Bon Homme Richard relieved her to sail for home 27 March. For the operations
she had concluded on Yankee Station, Coral Sea received her third NUC. The toll
for her third combat tour was four KIA, one MIA and four POWs, one of whom died
in captivity. CVW-15 suffered 15 combat losses.
Following an overhaul at Hunters Point, the carrier operated locally off the
California coast through the 1968 summer; she conducted carrier suitability
trials for the F-4K Phantom, a Royal Navy variant, 18 July, and the F-III B
23-24 July - the latter proving to be a large, unwieldy aircraft for the size
of the ship in which it was embarked. Subsequent CarQuals and weapons training
evolutions followed, marking the first time that an A-6A squadron had operated
from a Midway-class carrier, as VA-52 reported to CVW-15. The ship was awarded
the Battle Efficiency "E."
Workups continued for the forthcoming 1968-69 Vietnam deployment. Again CVW-15
operated advanced models of its aircraft such as VA-153's A-4Fs and this time
with two Whale units, VAQ-130 Det 43 "electric" EKA-3Bs and VAH-10
Det 43's KA-3B tankers.
Departing Alameda 7 September 1968 and proceeding via Pearl Harbor, Coral Sea
reached Yokosuka the 25th, relieving "Bonnie Dick." Returning to Yankee
Station, the ship commenced air operations 11 October; in her absence, President
Lyndon Johnson's halting all bombing of North Vietnam above the 20th parallel,
together with other imposed limitations, restricted the Navy's operational area
to the territory between the 18th and 19th parallels. Lack of lucrative targets,
poor weather, and crowded air space as a result of three carriers on station,
characterized the Navy's operations there, as Coral Sea's planes struck a series
of traffic control points along the major highways in an effort to impede the
logistics flow southward. With President Johnson's announcement of a complete
bombing halt of North Vietnam north of the 17th parallel, 1 November 1968, Coral
Sea moved south of that line; from that point on, the ship flew only reconnaissance
sorties over the North and strikes into South Vietnam and Laos. Ultimately,
with USAF and USMC aircraft operating over the former, all strike missions came
to be flown over Laos.
Punctuating her time on Yankee Station with a nine-day inport period at Subic,
Coral Sea resumed air operations 14 November, with strikes in USAF Steel Tiger
(Southern Laos) areas controlled by airborne or radar controllers located at
Camp Carroll, Dong Ha or DaNang. CVA-43's pilots encountered SAMs over North
Vietnam for the last time in 1968 when LTJG James S. Ozbirin evaded one as he
flew his VFP-63 RF-8G on a photo mission near Vinh, 3 December. Five days later
the ship's second line period ended.
Spending 12-26 December in Japanese waters, Coral Sea carried out two more
line periods on Yankee Station, interspersing launching strikes in support of
ground operations in South Vietnam and Laos followed by visits to Singapore,
Subic Bay (twice, for upkeep) and Hong Kong. Relieved at Yokosuka once more
by Bonnie Dick, Coral Sea sailed for Alameda 9 April 1969, arriving at her homeport
on the 18th, ending her fourth combat deployment. CVW-15's losses were reduced
as a result of the bombing halt; however, two more men died and one was missing
in action during the downing of four aircraft.
Shifting north to Bremerton, Coral Sea underwent a restricted availability
at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard before she returned to Alameda and a slate of
refresher training operations out of San Diego. CVA-43 sailed for her fifth
Vietnam deployment 23 September; proceeding via Pearl. She relieved Bon Homme
Richard at Yokosuka 16 October, and shortly thereafter received her fourth NUC
for operations conducted the previous deployment. For this cruise Coral Sea
operated for the first time with the A-7A Corsair, brought on board by VA-82
and -86 from the East Coast.
Over the next few months, the carrier operated on Yankee Station five times,
punctuating those periods of combat operations, hurling strikes "in country"
and supporting ground forces in Laos and South Vietnam, with visits to Subic,
Sasebo, Yokosuka and Hong Kong. Also during this deployment the ship suffered
damage to her number two aircraft elevator 15 January 1970 in heavy seas; a
C-IA Trader on the elevator at the time rolled part-way off, but the quick thinking
of her crew resulted in no lives being lost and the aircraft saved.
Once again the bombing halts brought a reduction of losses for the carrier
aviators in Vietnam, as CVW-15 listed one aircraft lost in combat with its pilot
MIA. Coral Sea sailed from Subic 4 June for Australia. She visited Sydney (13-18
June) before proceeding to Alameda, where San Francisco's Own received a warm
welcome 1 July 1969. Soon thereafter, she shifted to Hunter's Point, where she
commenced an overhaul. With more than 215,000 landings-topping the other active
carriers in the fleet - Coral Sea was awarded her second consecutive Admiral
Flatley Award 13 August on the basis of her 22,000 landings conducted without
mishap over the previous fiscal year. At this time, CVA-43 had 215,000 total
landings to her credit and received a third Naval Unit Commendation.
Between 1 July 1970 and 1 June 1971, Coral Sea underwent a $44,000,000 overhaul
at Hunter's Point. Among the work performed: improved habitability, the installation
of a Navy Tactical Data System, elevator improvements, and other repairs. The
ship returned to Alameda upon conclusion of the overhaul, and then conducted
a succession of operations including sea trials and type and refresher training
(RefTra) through mid-July. A fire on board 15 July damaged cables leading to
and from the main communications spaces, and extensively damaged the pipe shop.
Following a period of flight operations off the California coast
CAPT William H. Harris took CVA-43 to sea for her sixth, and final, combat
tour 12 November 1971. The ship reached Cubi Point 9 December, then proceeded
to Yankee Station, arriving the 15th embarked with CVW-15 for this deployment
was VMA(AW)-224 with A-6As and KA-6D tankers.
The first day of her line period, Coral Sea launched interdiction strikes against
the Ho Chi Minh Trail, in an attempt to interdict the flow of men and materiel
from North Vietnam Into the South.
Additionally, the ship's strike sorties supported President Richard Nixon's
developing "Vietnamization" program with its gradual withdrawal of
remaining American forces from the Republic of Vietnam. She remained on station
into mid- January 1972, at which time she left the line and steamed to Subic
Bay for upkeep. Second and third line periods followed, punctuated by upkeep
at Subic, as Coral Sea's planes flew interdiction sorties.
In late March, the ship returned to Yankee Station for what would prove to
be a 50-day period, as NVA forces launched a massive invasion of the south across
the DMZ. CVA-43 aircraft flew in support of units of the Army of the Republic
of Vietnam (ARVN) and U.S. forces seeking to stop the onslaught. In early April,
with the resumption of bombing of the north (albeit on a limited scale), Coral
Sea was among the first carriers to launch strikes. While the primary effort
remained to support the ground forces in the south, almost half of CVW-15's
efforts went toward knocking out troop and logistics concentrations, as well
as vehicular traffic supporting the movement of war materiel. A great deal of
emphasis was placed on the destruction of SAM Sites as the result of heavy enemy
reaction and to dilute the threat to American aircraft. Tragically, a SAM (SA-2)
downed the air wing commander, CDR Thomas E. Dunlop, near Quang Khe 6 April
1972. He was listed as killed in action.
On 16 April, CVW-15 struck Haiphong in the first major strike above the 2Oth
parallel since the resumption of the bombing of North Vietnam. Efforts were
now directed at disrupting the flow of supplies southward. Coral Sea began pounding
Haiphong, and laid mines off that port 9 May-an operation timed to coincide
precisely with the announcement of the mining by President Nixon. Since she
had arrived on the line, she had launched 2,800 sorties.
Following upkeep at Subic and rest and recreation at Hong Kong, the carrier
picked up the pace of operations where she left off, 23 May, resuming her strikes
against North Vietnamese targets. She returned to Subic once more before rounding
out the cruise with another line period. Coral Sea concluded her combat operations
30 June 1972, earning accolades for her performance. "It was more than
just a ship," declared RADM James Ferris, ComCarDiv Three, "but a
spirit of the men on Coral Sea, that fought the war on the line at Yankee Station.
Your remarkable ability to get the job done with a ship launched in 1946 and
a wing equipped with aircraft slightly older than the average has been an object
lesson in what determination can produce. Your determined and innovative tactics
in the air have led the way for many and have dealt the enemy many heavy blows."
During her last combat tour, CVW-l5 planes destroyed five MiGs in the air and
a transport aircraft on the ground; 12 of Coral Sea's planes had been lost in
combat: six A-7Es, two F-4Bs, and four A-6As. Of the 18 men who made up the
crews of those planes, one was KIA, six (three A-6A and three A-7E) were recovered,
five listed as MIA, and six were prisoners of war.
The Coral Sea/CVW-15 team had accounted for the destruction of 250 trucks and
damage to 156; destroyed 55 antiaircraft guns and damaged 25; destroyed 61 bridges
and damaged 44; destroyed six tanks and damaged several; destroyed better than
400 supply buildings, 175 damaged; sank 400 waterborne logistics craft, damaged
244; destroyed 200 railroad cars (one locomotive) and damaged 75; and destroyed
25 SA-2 SAMs, along with launchers, ground radar, and support equipment, as
well as 17 bulldozers. During the 248-day deployment, Coral Sea had spent 147
of them at sea on Yankee Station, with only 50 days in port. With 875 days on
the line off Vietnam, Coral Sea topped all other carriers for combat operations
during the Vietnam War. But the price her aviators paid was dear; 39 men were
listed killed or missing in action, as 69 of their aircraft were lost in combat.
Operational losses accounted for 26 more aircraft and 14 men.
Winding up the deployment at Alameda 17 July 1972, Coral Sea underwent an overhaul
at Hunter's Point into late October, before she conducted ReTra and air wing
operations. The end of U.S. participation in Vietnam brought changes in her
routine, and she sailed 9 March 1973 for her next WestPac cruise-the first carrier
to deploy after the negotiation of the Vietnam Cease Fire agreement of 27 January-nearly
a month later than scheduled. Proceeding via Pearl Harbor, the ship reached
Subic Bay 26 March. Significant changes for CVW-15 for this cruise were the
A-7Es of VA-22 and -94 an4 HC-l Det 6's SH-3G Sikorsky Sea Kings.
Conducting one line period on Yankee Station, she returned to the Philippines
for a short time before resuming Gulf of Tonkin operations. CVA-43 then provided
logistics support for the minesweeping forces engaged in clearing North Vietnamese
waterways. "Showing the flag" on Yankee Station became the ship's
primary duty, and more inport periods for upkeep became the norm, interspersing
these with port visits to Sasebo, Hong Kong, and Manila. She returned to Alameda,
winding up her first post-Vietnam War WestPac deployment 8 November 1973.
Over the next year, Coral Sea carried out a schedule of CarQuals and restricted
availability, interspersed with the maintenance items that had become a driving
force in her routine. The Vietnam War exacted a heavy toll on PacFlt carriers
and it proved to be a difficult task to undo the neglect forced by extended
cruises coupled with short turnarounds that had been so common over the previous
Coral Sea once more departed San Francisco Bay 5 December 1974, bound again
for Subic Bay. Soviet Bear overflights (23 and 25 December) marked the transit,
which ended when the ship reached the Philippines 29 December. She then commenced
a schedule of air wing refresher qualifications and training, interspersed with
Subic maintenance periods in February and March.
While the Vietnam War may have been over, the aftershocks of that conflict
continued to be felt. With the collapse of Cambodia early that spring, Coral
Sea operated in standby status during the evacuation of the Cambodian capital
of Phnom Penh 12 April 1975 in Operation Eagle Pull. Over the following two
weeks, the carrier operated off the Vietnamese coast as North Vietnamese forces
inexorably overran the south. As that country collapsed, Operation Frequent
Wind, the evacuation of Saigon, proceeded apace 29-30 April 1975. CVW-15 aircraft
covered the helo lift of the last people to leave Saigon as communist forces
overran the city.
Coral Sea seemed destined for no rest during an ostensibly peacetime deployment.
As she was en route to Perth, Australia, from Singapore word reached her of
the capture of SS Mayaguez by Cambodians 13 May. Steaming to the Gulf of Thailand,
CVA-43 flew 63 combat sorties on the 15th against Koh Tang Island and the Cambodian
mainland, in support of Mayaguez's recovery. Wounded Marines were flown to the
carrier for medical attention and transfer to Subic Bay; the ship remained in
the Gulf of Thailand through 18 May, at which time she began a two-day transit
to Subic. Finally proceeding to Perth, Coral Sea became the first American carrier
to visit that port (30 May-5 June). She then sailed for Alameda by way of Subic,
being reclassified CV-43 on 30 June 1975, reaching her homeport 2 July.
Entering Long Beach Naval Shipyard 6 August, Coral Sea under-went a seven-month
Extended Selected Restricted Availability (ESRA). Sea trials 3-4 May 1976 marked
the culmination of months of extensive work and proved the ship ready to return
to Alameda 18 May.
CV-43 began her final deployment of the 17-year association with CVW-15 15
February 1977, and brought it to a close 5 October. During that cruise- the
only one she would make with F-4J Phantoms embarked - she visited Pusan, Korea,
in addition to the more familiar ports of Yokosuka and Subic Bay during East
and South China Seas operations. VMAQ-2 EA-6A "electric" Intruders
also made a one-time-only appearance for this cruise.
Coral Sea worked-up off Southern California (31 January-17 February 1978),
while providing CarQual deck space for replacement and training command squadrons,
as Lexington (AVT-16) was undergoing a restricted availability. Subsequently,
Coral Sea reached Puget Sound Naval Shipyard 7 March, and the next day her homeport
was changed to Breemerton. During the next 11 months, the carrier underwent
an $80,000,000 overhaul, during which the last of her 5-inch battery and all
gun directors were removed. She ultimately sailed for Alameda 8 February 1979,
arriving the next day. Over the months that followed, the ship conducted an
intensive workup cycle, refresher training and CarQuals, enabling her to sail
for West Pac operating areas 13 November. For the first and only time in Naval
Aviation history, a Navy air wing deployed with all Marine Corps fighter assets.
-531 F-4Ns covered CVW-14 during a period of hectic West Coast fighter transition.
International events again influenced Coral Sea's schedule during deployment,
as she made an accelerated transit to Korean waters following the assassination
of South Korean President Park, the ship visited Pusan l0-l2 December. On 22
December, CAPT Richard M Dunleavy relieved CAPT Stanley R. Arthur as Coral Sea
CO to become the first Naval Flight Officer in history to command an aircraft
At about the same time, the taking of American hostages in Tehran in the aftermath
of the Iranian Revolution prompted a crisis that sent CV-43 into the Indian
Ocean as Midway's relief. What proved to be a 102-day at-sea period culminated
in the abortive attempt - flown from Nimitz (CVN-68)- to rescue the American
hostages, 25 April 1980. Coral Sea's planes were armed and stood ready to execute
several contingency cover and strike operations in support of aircraft on the
ground and in their exit from Iranian air space. Mechanical malfunctions with
some of the helicopters assigned to the mission, however, proved sufficient
to cause a mid-operation cancellation and the effort ended in disaster.
Coral Sea began her transit out of the Indian Ocean 27 April and entered Subic
Bay 8 May. During the 102 days spent at sea the 35-year-old carrier suffered
no major engineering casualties to hamper her ability to carry out her mission.
Beginning transit homeward 21 May she steamed via Korean waters, reaching Alameda
10 June 1980.
Commencing an availability14 July, the carrier underwent repairs to restore
the ship to first-rate operating condition in all systems, and increase her
value as a deployable carrier asset for years to come. During that period, the
ship was equipped with three Phalanx Close-In Weapons System (CIWS) mounts.
Following refresher training and CarQuals, Coral Sea departed Alameda 4 May
1981 for mid-Pacific operations near Hawaii. Returning to the Southern California
OpArea the ship, with CVW-14 embarked, sailed for WestPac 20 August. Steaming
via Pearl Harbor and Subic Bay, she then operated in the South China Sea en
route to Singapore and the Indian Ocean where she relieved America (CV-66) on
station. She operated with Royal Navy units in GonzoEx 2-81 (17-23 November)
and Bright Star 82, an exercise involving the defense of Egypt and the vital
Suez Canal (4-9 December). The day before Christmas Coral Sea logged her 300,000th
arrested landing when LT William Throne and his RIO, LT Pat Mahaffey, of VF-154,
landed their F-4N Phantom on board.
Relieved on station 17 December 1981 by Constellation (CV-64), Coral Sea visited
a succession of familiar ports - Pattaya, Thailand, Subic (for upkeep) and Hong
Kong-before she operated in the Sea of Japan and subsequently visited Sasebo.
Stopping at Subic one last time in the deployment, the carrier steamed for Alameda
via Pearl Harbor arriving home 23 March 1982 to an enthusiastic reception. CV-43
soon commenced what would be yet another cycle of upkeep and local operations
that would carry her into the following year. During that period, in late July,
Coral Sea served as a movie "prop" in filming of portions of the motion
picture "The Right Stuff."
Departing Alameda 21 March 1983, San Francisco's Own returned to the port of
her origin as she commenced an around the world cruise. Demonstrating the vast
capabilities of carrier air power, the Coral Sea/CVW-14 team first participated
in battle group exercises in the Aleutians, power projection training over Korea
and Okinawa and supported landing exercises in the Philippines. She next conducted
air defense exercises over Singapore, operated in the Arabian Sea, "showed
the flag" between Lebanon and Libya with the 6th Fleet and paid port calls
upon Naples and Cannes. She ended the momentous journey showing "presence"
off the coasts of South and Central America before entering Naval Operating
Base Norfolk 12 September.
Shifting to Norfolk Naval Shipyard 16 September, she underwent repairs and
alterations that lasted into the following spring. Included in the package were
all of the equipment required to operate F/A-18s -two large Mk 7 jet blast deflectors,
flush deck nose gear launch, catapult mods, rotary launch valves and avionics
support equipment. The latest electronics SPS-48 and SPS-49, air search radars
were also fitted to enable her to operate to the end of the decade. After carrying
out post-overhaul sea trials and RefTra (19 November l984 - 11 April 1985) Coral
Sea collided with the civilian tanker Napo, which prompted a return to Norfolk
and a drydocking for hull repairs 19 April-3 June.
Resuming normal operations that summer, CV-43 embarked NATC's carrier suitability
branch with F/A-18A, A-6E, A-7E, F-14A and T-2Cs to complete shipboard testing
of the ship's catapults, arresting gear and automatic carrier landing system.
Riding out Hurricane Gloria while berthed at Norfolk 26-27 September, Coral
Sea sailed 2 October for the Med and 6th Fleet operations with newly established
Air Wing 13 embarked. CVW-13 was the first East Coast air wing to deploy the
McDonnell Douglas F/A-18A Hornet. Over the next month and a half, the carrier
participated in three major exercises. The first, Display Determination '85
(15-20 October), in the Aegean Sea was a joint NATO exercise with Turkey. The
CV-43/CVW-13 team conducted dual battle group operations with Saratoga (CV-60)
and CVW-17 in support of amphibious operations in the Thrace region of northern
Turkey. In ContinuEx '85 22-24 October, she operated in the Aegean and eastern
Mediterranean planes flying low-level and simulated bombing missions in concert
with Turkish Air Force. During Exercise Isle D'Or 6-12 November Coral Sea and
her planes were in the western Med, carrying out antisubmarine warfare and war-at-sea
As 1986 began, there was increased tension in the Mediterranean. On 7 January,
President Ronald Reagan ordered American citizens out of Libya, and broke off
all remaining ties between the two nations. At the same time, the president
ordered a second carrier battlegroup to the Mediterranean, and directed the
Joint Chiefs of Staff to look into military operations against Libya, whose
leader, Moammar Gadhafi, was strongly suspected of fomenting terrorist activity.
Coral Sea, meanwhile, had begun the year at Naples before carrying out Exercise
Dasix '85 (8-9 January 1986), evolutions designed to test the effectiveness
of the French Air Force and French air defense command/control structure. Operations
near Libya - in which Coral Sea participated - began at the end of January.
Those evolutions, collectively named Attain Document, took place 24-31 January
and between 10-15 February. Subsequently, Coral Sea participated in amphibious
exercises 21-24 February off the coast of Tunisia and off the island of Sardinia
15-22 March. Soon thereafter, however, exercises gave way to work in earnest.
Late 23 March, American planes flew south of latitude 30 degrees 30 minutes
- the "Line of Death" proclaimed by Gadhafi. The following day, Ticonderoga
(CG-47), accompanied by two destroyers, Scott (DDG-995) and Caron (DD-970),
in the Gulf of Sidra, moved south of the "Line," covered by fighter
aircraft, at 0600.
At 0752 a Libyan missile installation near Sirte launched two Soviet-made SA-5
Gammon SAMs toward F-14A Tomcats of America's VF-102. Later that afternoon,
the Sirte installation fired additional SAMs at American planes, but like the
first pair, they were wide of their mark. About 1430, a Libyan missile equipped
Combattante II G4ype patrol craft, sortied from Misratah, Libya, heading for
Ticonderoga and her consorts. Two Grumman A-6Es from America's VA-34 fired Harpoon
missiles at the craft and sank her in the first use of the AGM-84 in combat.
Shortly thereafter, when American radars detected the Libyan installation at
Sirte activating its target acquisition radars, two A-7Es from Saratoga's VA-81
put the site out of action with HARMs.
One hour after the first patrol boat had sortied, a Soviet-built Nanuchka-type
patrol craft began heading out into the Gulf of Sidra. Intruders from VA-34
and Saratoga's VA-85 attacked with Rockeye cluster bombs, but the craft sought
refuge alongside a neutral merchant ship and avoided destruction. Damaged, she
returned to the port of Benghazi after nightfall.
The following day, 25 March, at 0200, another Nanuchka II-type patrol boat
entered international waters and came under attack by Intruders from VA-85 and
Coral Sea's VA-55; the latter utilized Rockeye in the attack, the former then
sank the craft with a Harpoon. The same squadrons then attacked and damaged
a second Nanuchka-II, forcing her to put into Benghazi.
Attain Document III came to a close at 0900 27 March, three days ahead of schedule
and after 48 hours of largely unchallenged use of the Gulf of Sidra by ships
of the U.S. Navy. Intelligence information, however, in the wake of the strikes
designed to let Colonel Gadhafi know that the United States had not only the
desire but the capability to effect a response to terrorism, indicated the unstable
Libyan leader intended retaliation.
Such occurred soon thereafter. On 5 April 1986, two days after a bomb exploded
on board a Trans World Airways flight en route to Athens from Rome, killing
four American citizens. Another bomb exploded in the La Belle Discoteque in
West Berlin, killing two American servicemen and a Turkish civilian. Among the
other 222 wounded in the bombing were 78 Americans. Gadhafi threatened to escalate
violence against Americans, civilian and non-civilian, throughout the world.
Repeated U.S. efforts to persuade the Libyan leader to forsake terrorism as
an instrument of policy, including an attempt to persuade other western nations
to isolate Libya peacefully, failed. Rumors of U.S. retaliation were soon followed
by Gadhafi's threat to take all foreigners in Libya hostage, and use them as
a shield to protect his military installations. In light of that threat, the
failure to gain peaceful sanctions against Libya, and citing "incontrovertible
evidence" of Libyan complicity in the recent terrorist acts, President
Reagan directed that attacks on terrorist-related targets in Libya be carried
Operation Eldorado Canyon commenced the evening of 14 April 1986, as USAF tanker
aircraft took off from bases in England. These support planes were soon followed
by F-111Fs and EF-111As to begin the long, 3,000-mile trip to their targets.
Later, shortly after midnight, America launched six VA-34 Intruders and six
A-7Es. Simultaneously, Coral Sea, well to the east of America's position, launched
her strike/support aircraft: eight A-6Es from VA-55 and six F/A-18A Hornets.
Both carriers launched other aircraft to support the strike, providing CAP and
"In a spectacular feat of mission planning and execution," the Navy
and Air Force planes, based 3,000 miles apart, reached their targets on time
at 1900. The F/A-I8As from Coral Sea and A-7Es from America launched air-to-surface
Shrike missiles and HARMs against Libyan SAM sites at Benghazi and Tripoli.
Moments later, VA-34's A-6s, roaring in at low-level in the blackness, dropped
their Mk 82 bombs with near surgical precision on the Benghazi Military Barracks,
reckoned to be an alternate command and control facility for terrorist activities
and a billeting area for Gadhafi's elite Jamahiriyah Guard, as well as a warehouse
for MiG aircraft components. VA-34's attack heavily damaged the warehouse, destroying
four crated MiGs and damaging a fifth. Over the next week, the battle groups
maintained a high state of readiness; although Libyan aircraft were in the air
daily, they did not venture into the airspaces above the Gulf of Sidra.
Subsequent to the successful counter-terrorist stroke carried out by the America
and Coral Sea battlegroups, Coral Sea sailed for home 9 May 1986, relieved by
Enterprise arriving 19 May. Following an inport period and Naval Reserve active
duty training, sea trials and CarQuals off the Virginia Capes, Coral Sea entered
Norfolk Naval Shipyard 22 July. She remained there, undergoing a selected restricted
availability, into December, after which she moved back to Norfolk, where she
remained into 1987.
Coral Sea, nicknamed "The Ageless Warrior", deployed to the Mediterranean
twice more in the twilight of her career, the first time 11 October 1987-29
March 1988, and the last 31 May-30 September 1989. During the latter, commanded
by her final CO, CAPT L.E. Allen, she carried out contingency operations off
strife-torn Lebanon in August, "on station and ready to implement national
policy . . ." The evacuation of the American embassy, accomplished on short
notice, proved "a last superlative footnote" to The Ageless Warrior's
chronicle of operations in that historic sea. In between deployments, Coral
Sea carried out local operations in the VaCapes and Cherry Point operating areas
and twice visited Halifax, Nova Scotia, before slipping into her Norfolk berth
for the last time, 30 September 1989.
With Coral Sea's 26 April 1990 decommissioning, one more link with the World
War II Navy passes from the scene. Even before her commissioning pennant is
hauled down comes a movement to reassign her name to a future aircraft carrier,
so that it can continue to provide inspiration to the men who take the ship
to sea. No doubt such an assignment would prove not only appropriate but popular.
Looking back over Coral Sea's proud history, one must echo RADM Ferris' comments
in the summer of 1972. While meant to pertain to the recent deployment on Yankee
Station that she had just completed, it could also be applied to sum up her
career as well. Coral Sea . . . "more than just a ship . . ."